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  • 2016maungphd

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Do psychiatric diagnoses explain?: A philosophical investigation

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Published
Publication date2017
Number of pages276
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Publisher
  • Lancaster University
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This thesis is a philosophical examination of the explanatory roles of diagnoses in psychiatry. In medicine, diagnoses normally serve as causal explanations of patients’ symptoms. Given that psychiatry is a discipline whose practice is shaped by medical traditions, it is often implied that its diagnoses also serve such explanatory functions. This is evident in clinical texts that portray psychiatric diagnoses as referring to diseases that cause symptoms. However, there are problems which cast doubt on whether such portrayals are justified. I address these problems and examine whether psychiatric diagnoses provide explanations of symptoms. The first problem is conceptual. In diagnostic manuals, psychiatric diagnoses are defined by their symptoms. This suggests that invoking them as explanations of the symptoms amounts to circularity. I argue that this can be resolved with an appropriate conceptual framework that captures the complex semantic values of diagnostic terms and their different uses in clinical discourse. I put forward such a framework based on two-dimensional semantics. The second problem is ontological. Empirical research suggests that diagnostic categories in psychiatry do not correspond to invariant causal types, but are associated with variable combinations of diverse causes that interact across biological, psychological, and social levels. Given this heterogeneity, I argue that psychiatric diagnoses fall short of paradigmatic cases of causal explanation, but that some can still provide other sorts of useful causal explanatory information. The original contribution of this thesis is the illumination of the conceptual relations between diagnoses and symptoms. This philosophical work is important, because it can be brought to valuable application in modifying psychiatric practice.